How To Cook Without A Recipe: Advice From Samin Nosrat And Hrishikesh Hirway Following a recipe is easy, but improvising in the kitchen takes confidence — and a well-stocked pantry.

How To Improvise In The Kitchen — With Tips From Samin Nosrat And Hrishikesh Hirway

How To Improvise In The Kitchen — With Tips From Samin Nosrat And Hrishikesh Hirway

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Watch as Samin Nosrat walks through her process of putting together a meal without a recipe.

NPR YouTube

Updated January 28, 2021

If you want to try freestyling in the kitchen, Samin Nosrat, author of the best-selling book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, recommends finding an "anchor" for your meal. Your anchor can be a craving, what's in your fridge, or the amount of time you have. Let this anchor guide your meal prep and lead your choices in the kitchen.

And if you want to gain some confidence, here's what Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway, co-hosts of the podcast Home Cooking, recommend.

Stock up so you can whip something up when you're hungry. "Always have a really well-stocked spice shelf," says Nosrat. She and Hirway agree —cumin is their go-to, must-have spice. "It has so much concentrated flavor and is so transformative," says Hirway. The two agree that cumin can transform plain ol' beans or lentils into culinary delights from India, Mexico and around the Middle East.

Nosrat says she likes to be able "to go to any country at the drop of the hat." So here are her recommendations for a well-stocked, ready-to-travel kitchen:

  • Vinegars, oils, and soy sauce.
  • Spicy condiments like hot sauces and pepper pastes.
  • Rice (white, brown, wild, etc.)
  • Noodles and pastas (soba noodles, rice noodles, etc.)
  • Frozen vegetables (broccoli, carrots, peas, etc.)
  • Onions, garlic
  • An array of spices (don't forget cumin!)

If you want to practice cooking without a recipe, start with a pot of beans. Nosrat says a pot of beans is a great blank slate — you can turn it into soup, a chili, pasta e fagioli, or serve it with rice. If you're using dried beans, soak them overnight in water with salt and baking soda, and cook them the next day.


The podcast version of this story was produced by Clare Marie Schneider.

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